ford models fashion: The Art of Beauty
Giving Beauty: Ford Direct’s Monica Watkins
by Alison Baenen
As a 20-year veteran of the modeling industry, Ford Direct’s Monica Watkins has a Dior campaign to her name, a longstanding relationship with Dolce & Gabbana, and most recently, a Nivea commercial to add to her portfolio.
For most, that would be enough to stay busy. But Watkins has a deep commitment to philanthropy, and through the Art in Motion foundation she started in 2008, the model has worked with orphans in Haiti, fought back against domestic trafficking in New York, and brought the work of at-risk artists to a global audience. Next up? Back-to-back Art in Motion shows at Art Basel Miami Beach and the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Welcome to Miami. Opening December 1 at the Catalina Hotel, “Rebirth of a Nation“ will feature paintings created by children from the Diakonos Orphanage in Carrefour, Haiti. The facility’s 38 residents, ranging in age from 3 to 20, produced the artworks in workshops Watkins—a painter herself—conceived and taught last April. In addition to a selection of the young people’s paintings, work will show by Haitian-born, Hudson Valley–based sculptor Wilfredo Morel, as will mixed-media pieces by 19-year-old street-art sensation Alex Louis.
Watkins met Louis, who creates art with discarded objects from his hometown of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, through a mutual friend who suggested he help translate at Diakonos. Hearing that Louis had attracted the attention of Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, Watkins and her boyfriend offered Louis a spot in their East Village apartment while he participated this summer in Pratt’s Incubator for Sustainable Innovation program. “I fell in love with him on so many levels,” says Watkins of Louis, whose bright career she’s now managing. “He is such an incredible artist.”
Less than two weeks after masterminding “Rebirth of a Nation,” Watkins will be back in her adopted Big Apple—she hails from Huntsville, Texas—to celebrate the opening of her second show, “The Art of Beauty Experience.” In addition to work produced under Watkins’ guidance at Diakonos, “The Art of Beauty” will feature paintings, drawings, and photographs created by young women from Girls Education and Mentoring Services. GEMS is an NYC nonprofit that helps victims of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.
“The legal system doesn’t have much compassion or sympathy for these girls,” Watkins tells us, explaining that many are prosecuted for acts they were forced into. “The advocacy [GEMS founder] Rachel [Lloyd] promotes is so dear to my heart. … The girls are a true inspiration to me.” Empowered by her many years in front of the camera, Watkins encouraged both groups to explore their beauty through the process of artistic creation. “Art is therapy,” asserts Watkins. “If you have pain, paint it. If you have joy, paint it.”
The work from the twin art projects, created miles apart, will be shown side by side from December 15 to 18 at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery.